Please Don’t Go (09:01 December 22, 1977 –                   )

Stephen Mueller

November 12 to December 11, 2010

This recent U of C MFA graduate presents a performative installation exploring the socio-psychological implications of human rituals, performed in the face of death, yet intended to maintain the illusion of immortality.

Please Don’t Go is, at once, an unabashed representation of daily struggles with an uncooperative mind, an exercise in self-involved psychoanalysis, a living cenotaph, a time machine and, above all, a reason for trying.

Essay

At its fundamental root, this ritual represents a personal struggle with an obsessive compulsion (anxiety) that manifests itself in a constant re-evaluation and self-deprecating criticism of past experiences, and a conscious fear of impending familial loss. Repeated attempts are made to mentally organize and assign definitive purpose to continuously changing representations of the past (memories), in an attempt to achieve adequate enough closure, through personal reasoning and justification, to move forward psychologically and become fully conscious of life in the present. In actuality, this preoccupation with the past mentally supersedes (or at least interferes with) the conscious present, which immediately becomes the past and continues the cycle. Therefore, it may be stated that the daily ritual performed in Please Don’t Go is a physical representation of psychological futility.

But is it futile? In our culture we perform all sorts of seemingly futile rituals in the face of death. Not for the deceased, but for ourselves. We memorialize the past through photograph albums and nostalgic keepsakes in an attempt to retain and control our memories. The psychological significance of specific objects, locations, or events from our past, and the futile efforts we make to preserve and retain our memories of those objects, locations, or events through physical representations in the present, is a reflection of our desire to create and maintain illusions of immortality through symbolic systems, in order to protect ourselves against the spectre of death.

Our memories of our past are entirely manufactured in the present and are continuously changing due to the ever-increasing amount of experiential information we receive, in combination with our subjective analysis of the relationship of that information to the particular symbolic, mental representations that generate our recollections of former experiences. The passage of time, therefore, is not only a literal representation of our mortality, but a symbolic one, as we experience the continual deaths of our remembered past. In order to psychologically circumvent these losses, I memorialize, through symbolic ritual, the emotional significance of my past. Memories are preserved, through tangible re-creation (resurrection), and the individuals and experiences they represent are immortalized.

According to Terror Management Theory (TMT), cultural systems encourage conceptions of the world as a just place and promise ‘symbolic’ immortality through identification with the system and ‘real’ immortality through religion. When art is called upon to take the place of religion, seemingly futile acts, such as the transcription, deconstruction, and re-configuration of memory, become substitutes for religious ritual and devotion (faith). If, through these processes, one believes that one is meeting the culturally prescribed standards of value (in this case, within the sphere of contemporary art and visual culture), it then follows, according to TMT, that the individual will gain confidence (self-esteem), reducing the unconscious death anxiety they will experience.

– Stephen G.A. Mueller

Bio

Stephen George Alexander Mueller holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Visual Arts from the University of Windsor (2004) and a Master of Fine Arts degree in Visual Arts from the University of Calgary (2006). Utilizing a variety of media, his studio practice explores personal fears and anxieties through ritualized compulsive obsession and futile representation. Cultural signs are delicately interwoven with personal symbolism to create works that are both poetic and poignantly elegiac­­–a multilayered consideration of beingness, mortality, and survival through an honest and personal lens. Notions of ‘purposeful futility and blind conviction play an important conceptual role in his research as he investigates the relationships between fear, longing, anxiety, obsession, faith/’faith’, and the propensity to surround oneself with representational yet illusory objects and images in an attempt to circumvent inevitable loss and, ultimately, psychological and physical death. Mueller lives and works in Windsor, Ontario.

Christopher Willard wrote about this exhibition for Canadian Art.